Attorney General preparing investigation of governor after a second sexual harassment allegation

Photo by Kevin Coughlin, Governor’s Office
Attorney General Letitia James says that, following two separate allegations of sexual harassment by the governor, her office will be leading an investigation into the allegations. “This is not a responsibility we take lightly. We will hire a law firm, deputize them as attorneys of our office, and oversee a rigorous and independent investigation,” James said.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James confirmed Sunday she is preparing an investigation into allegations that Gov. Andrew Cuomo sexually harassed two former employees.

“Allegations of sexual harassment should always be taken seriously,” James said on Sunday. “There must be a truly independent investigation to thoroughly review these troubling allegations against the governor, and I stand ready to oversee that investigation and make any appointments necessary.”

The New York Times on Saturday published a story about Charlotte Bennett, a health policy advisor and executive assistant to Gov. Cuomo, who accused him of sexual harassment. The article states that the governor “asked [Bennett] questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men.”

This follows an earlier New York Times story published on Wednesday about another employee, Lindsey Boylan, who has accused the governor of sexual harassment, and published a lengthy account of what she calls the “governor’s pervasive harassment.”

Boylan writes in her essay, published Wednesday, Feb. 24, that “Governor Andrew Cuomo has created a culture within his administration where sexual harassment and bullying is so pervasive that it is not only condoned but expected.”

Boylan worked for the Empire State Development Corporation.

In response to the New York Times articles, Cuomo issued this statement Sunday afternoon:

“Questions have been raised about some of my past interactions with people in the office.

“I never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm. I spend most of my life at work and colleagues are often also personal friends.

“At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good natured way. I do it in public and in private. You have seen me do it at briefings hundreds of times. I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.

“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended. I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.

“To be clear I never inappropriately touched anybody and I never propositioned anybody and I never intended to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but these are allegations that New Yorkers deserve answers to.

“That’s why I have asked for an outside, independent review that looks at these allegations.

“Separately, my office has heard anecdotally that some people have reached out to Ms. Bennett to express displeasure about her coming forward. My message to anyone doing that is you have misjudged what matters to me and my administration and you should stop now – period.”

In response to the accusations, state lawmakers are issuing reactions calling for investigations, and even resignations.

“The newest allegations of sexual harassment against Governor Cuomo reaffirm what I said last week, that we need a truly independent investigation by the Attorney General or an independent prosecutor,” said Sen. James Tedisco, R-Glenville.

“These new allegations of sexual harassment made against the governor today by a second former aide are just as disturbing and concerning; reinforcing my call for an immediate independent investigation,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam. “Whether it’s a member of the legislature or the Governor’s office, as a matter of policy and moral code we have an obligation to act. All allegations of sexual harassment including those made against the Governor, must be investigated thoroughly.”

Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Pelham, was more direct: “As a New Yorker, a legislator, Chair of the Senate Ethics and Internal Governance Committee, and a survivor of sexual abuse, I am calling for Governor Cuomo to resign.”

Sen. Biaggi’s full statement: